Last weekend when I pulled into my driveway I saw an alarming, but not totally unusual sight. My next door neighbor who suffers from a mental illness, was pacing back and forth between my driveway and his, yelling and swearing at the top of his lungs.
I could barely make out what he was yelling about, but I heard a few words that made me think he was venting about some type of unresolved childhood traumas and was clearly off his medications and in a manic state.
He was perspiring profusely and didn’t even acknowledge me when I pulled into the driveway and got out of my car. I didn’t attempt to engage or redirect him because he appeared agitated so I quickly went inside of my house.
For the next hour or so I could hear him yelling. Periodically I looked out of the window and watched him walk back and forth as if he were having an argument with someone who wasn’t there. In the past some of our other neighbors have called the police on him for disturbing the peace and I was hoping that none of them would call the police this time, because as scary and intimidating as this behavior could appear, he was harmless. However, if the police got involved, depending on their approach, I was unsure of how he would react and what the outcome of that interaction would be.
In the best case scenario, the police would come, identify him as a mentally ill individual and transport him to the mental health hospital which is less than five miles from where we live. Another outcome would be that they would arrest him as they had done numerous times before when he was off of his medication and causing a scene. The worse, and yet what I feared to be a highly likely outcome would be that they would see his manic and agitated behavior as a sign of aggression and use force, perhaps even deadly force on him.
Thankfully, after close to 2 hours of yelling and pacing, he went back in the house and all was quiet again. No one had called the police. No one had gotten hurt.
I woke up the next morning to hear on the news that in the next county over, a mentally ill man was shot and killed by a law enforcement officer after his family called seeking help for him.
Deadly Force and The Mentally Ill
I wrote an article a few years ago about mentally ill individuals and deadly police encounters. Unfortunately, individuals with a mental illness make up a disproportionate number of people stopped, arrested and killed by law enforcement officers. Research suggests that approximately 25% of the individuals that law enforcement officers encounter have a severe mental illness.
Individuals with a mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during encounters with law enforcement compared to the general population. Some statistics estimate that nearly half of all law enforcement deathly force incidents involve an individual with a severe mental illness.
That is why I was so afraid to call the police to ask for help with my neighbor that night. It’s sad that so many people who need help end up arrested or getting killed by those asked to help them.
Law enforcement officers need to undergo intensive and ongoing training in dealing with mentally ill and unstable individuals and to not always resort to deadly force during these often tense, unpredictable and scary encounters. They could first attempt nonlethal force, verbal de-escalation or calling for more assistance before reaching for their fire arm.
Communities can also increase assess to treatment programs so that individuals are less likely to go untreated and hopefully decrease their chances of having encounters with law enforcement.
When you look into it, the number of mentally ill people involved in deathly police shootings is staggering. No family who calls the police asking for a well-being check on their mentally ill loved one should worry that he or she will be shot and killed by those who are supposed to protect and serve.